New University of Miami football coach Mark Richt had a bit more than three weeks in NCAA-designated recruiting time — including three weekends for official visits to Coral Gables — to scour the country for the young men who would make up his first signing class.
The former Hurricanes quarterback, dismissed by Georgia in November after an illustrious, 15-year tenure with the Bulldogs, made every minute count. And although he still couldn’t prevent the late defections of two players to Tennessee, he got a heralded wide receiver as his last signee Wednesday afternoon, a four-star safety Tuesday night and a badly needed defensive tackle and offensive tackle Monday.
He also got UM’s future quarterback and three strong linebackers already enrolled.
Late Tuesday night, Naples High four-star cornerback Tyler Byrd switched his allegiance to Tennessee. And Wednesday, on National Signing Day, receiver Latrell Williams of Lake City Columbia — his ratings varied depending on the service — also defected to Tennessee.
Enter four-star Wellington receiver Ahmmon Richards to the rescue. The Canes were gifted with a huge signing Wednesday by Richards, who chose Miami over Alabama, Auburn and Tennessee. Richards, a U.S. Army All-American, was a Canes commit until former coach Al Golden was fired. He had 73 catches for 1,278 yards and 14 touchdowns and is rated the nation’s 28th-best receiver by 247Sports.
“Very, very smooth athlete,’’ Richt said. “It looks effortless because of his athleticism.”
Richards was one of three talented Palm Beach County signees. “Great football,” Richt said of Palm Beach County, adding that the county just north of Broward “is also near and dear to me because I was a Boca High Bobcat.”
UM also signed three players from Miami-Dade and three from Broward. Sixteen of the 18 players who signed are from Florida.
The class was ranked 21st by Rivals, 20th by 247 and 19th by ESPN -- all better than last year’s final rankings.
In their favor, the Canes picked up highly-rated Niceville safety Romeo Finley, who committed Tuesday night and signed Wednesday. Finley chose Miami over Clemson and Georgia Tech and is the nation’s 12th-best safety according to ESPN.com.
“What I love about Romeo is his aggressiveness,” UM safeties coach Ephraim Banda said in a UM tweet. “He seeks contact on every play.”
Additionally, Miami signed its only offensive tackle, 6-7, 280-pound Tre Johnson of Orlando First Academy, and its only defensive tackle, 6-3, 265-pound Lanett (Alabama) Valley High’s Tyreic Martin. Both chose UM on Monday.
“Recruiting is a relationship game, so to speak,” Richt said Wednesday. “It’s very common across the country that guys get flipped one way or another. It’s a very emotional time for a lot of families. By the end they’re pretty frazzled. Everybody is getting worn down at the end because it is such a grind.
“Historically I’ve been the type of coach that doesn’t want to twist anybody’s arm or coerce a guy into committing. Most of the times when you do that it’s not that solid. I want guys to really be sure of what they want to do.”
The recruiting prowess of former UM interim coach Larry Scott, now tight ends coach at Tennessee, did not help the Canes’ cause, as they badly need cornerbacks with the departure of Artie Burns and Tracy Howard, and receivers with the departure of Rashawn Scott and Herb Waters.
But the Canes did nab Coconut Creek cornerback Malek Young, a U.S. Army All-American and former Georgia commit who said he really liked the new coaching staff.
And their new safeties Wednesday include Gulliver Prep’s Cedrick Wright, rated the 38th-best safety in the nation by 247Sports, and Orlando Olympic High’s Jeff James, the 6-1, 185-pound nephew of Canes great running back Edgerrin James.
“Miami, it’s all about legacy,’’ Jeff James told Rivals.com, which gave him a two-star rating. “I love the coaching staff. It’s going to be a big change there.”
UM is a program that welcomes players related to former stars, such as new tight end Michael Irvin II, son of Pro Football Hall of Famer and Canes legend Michael Irvin; and receiver Sam Bruce, nephew of former NFL great Isaac Bruce. Both hail from Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas. This year’s new crop also includes early enrollee defensive end Pat Bethel, an Under Armour All-American whose father Randy played tight end at UM from 1987-90.
“I’m excited for Sam Bruce, what he brings, the intangibles, the skill-set that he has,” UM receivers coach Ron Dugans told Canes’ broadcasters Joe Zagacki and Don Bailey Jr. Dugans smiled when mentioning the nickname the speedy, confident teenager has tweeted before: “Samborghini” — as in Lamborghini. “It is about the swagger,” Dugans said. “It is about the pride. It is about commitment.”
Recruiting analyst Charles Fishbein of Elite Scouting Services told the Miami Herald that Bruce, the ninth-rated receiver by Rivals and ESPN and No. 6 receiver by 247, reminded him of former Cane Santana Moss — a threat in the return game as well as receiving game.
“Miami needs to inject what Sam Bruce has into its program,’’ Fishbein said. “He’s a guy who won’t accept losing.’’
Added Richt of Bruce: “Very explosive, very well put together, very strong.”
Five other impact players, if not now then in the future, are the ones already enrolled in classes. Three of them — U.S. Army All-American Shaquille Quarterman, Zach McCloud and Michael Pinckney — are outstanding linebackers, a position at which the Canes sorely need depth and talent.
The other early enrollee ready for spring practice is 6-5, 200-pound future quarterback Jack Allison, an Under Armour All-American out of Palmetto High.
*QB Jack Allison
*LB Patrick Bethel
WR Sam Bruce
St. Thomas Aquinas
S Romeo Finley
TE Jovani Haskins
RB Travis Homer
WPB Oxbridge Academy
TE Michael Irvin II
St. Thomas Aquinas
DE Joseph Jackson
S Jeff James
OT Tre Johnson
Orlando First Academy
*OLB Zach McCloud
Lake Worth Santaluces
DT Tyreic Martin
Lanett (Ala.) Valley High
WR Dionte Mullins
*LB Michael Pinckney
*LB Shaquille Quarterman
Orange Park Oakleaf
WR Ahmmon Richards
S Cedrick Wright
CB Malek Young